Re-Record, Don’t Fade Away: The Future of the Online Lecture

Recorded lectures have become a go-to assemblence in the lecturer’s toolkit of recent years. With some universities investing heavily in lecture capture technology, and others taking a more individualised approach to encouraging academics to participate in the delivery and preservation of online content, the online lecture it would seem is here to stay.

flipped research

A recent Times Higher Education article by Nicholas Morton of Nottingham Trent University explores the merits of the online lecture and while his account was predominantly focused around the use of the recorded lecture and lecture capture as a concurrent supplement to the existing scheduled lecture, my own interest in flipped classroom is focused around what can be done instead with the available time if the lecture itself is flipped to become the pre-requisite pre-learning activity to the scheduled session.

Concerned about the loss of ‘the passion and the inspiration’ that is experienced as part of a really great lecture, Morton’s concern is not entirely unjustified here, but then not all lecturers are passionate or indeed inspiring. Lecturing is a form of performance but one that is equally possible from your kitchen table as it is from a 350 seat lecture theatre. The 350 bodies might not be present, but your passion for the subject and levels of enthusiasm should be, and if they are not, then perhaps it’s time to consider whether you are in the right profession? Like any skill though, recording lectures requires a bit of practice and the discomfort of starting to review your lecturing practice acts as a flashback reminder of starting out on the route to lecturing in the first place. Recalling my own first lecture back at The University of Nottingham in 2004, this was distinctly characterised by pre-sessional nerves, a mild dose of panic, sweaty palms and an odd out-of-body experience as I lectured from meticulously planned, and well-rehearsed notes. Twelve years of teaching practice on, and the anticipation of lecturing and presenting no longer has such a visceral impact. However discomfort zones anew have emerged, and every time with a keen awareness of how that discomfort is largely the result of an accompanying expectation for a change in practice. That said, we wouldn’t be developing our own professional practice, if we were unwilling to experience the discomfort of life outside of the familiar and the comfortable. For me, the first forays into flipped classroom learning and online recorded lectures represented an equally uncomfortable development. But that immediate discomfort very quickly moved on to become comfortable practice that afforded a wide range of new possibilities.

I am reassured that academics are exploring the benefits of using online lectures themselves. And while Morton identifies the need to maintain the actual ‘experience’ of the lecture, there exists a wealth of much more immersive and richly active learning experiences that the live lecture can be replaced with. To be fair to Morton though, he does raise valid points about the concern expressed over dwindling attendance and an over reliance on online content over any development of the offline experience. However, none of these suggestions is more on point than when he highlights the need to move beyond thinking of ‘lecture capture as a dangerous replacement for lectures and more of an accompaniment.’ As I see it, there are two possible approaches to the online lecture, the simple lecture capture that allows you to record a live lecture in-situ or the purposeful pre-recording of lecture content using any number of new technologies that allow you to do so and to prepare a purpose-built learning environment that extends beyond the parameters of the traditional classroom.

flipped classroom

While the benefits of both outweigh the live-only alternative, both forms are appreciated as students are given the capacity to time-shift their engagement, to repeat view as they approach assessments and the exam period, and to refresh their knowledge as they prepare to articulate their own learning. However, the biggest area of excitement for me is the capacity that is offered up for hands-on learning when the online recorded lecture acts as the replacement for the traditional static lecture. In response to suggestions from my own students, during focus-group discussions, who had joked about getting rid of lectures altogether in order to make room for the hands-on learning and active experimentation that we have been engaging in within the workshop sessions, instead they made a case for us trying out new technology to record the lectures online in order to free up more session time to have an opportunity to test out their own ideas in a supported workshop environment.

Always willing to try new ideas, even if I was slightly apprehensive about my ability to support student learning from afar, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the result and particularly with the willingness with which these students went on to carve out their own learning journey from the options and opportunities made avail;able to them. That was four years ago and I have since employed flipped classroom learning across both my undergraduate and postgraduate delivery. Most recently I have adapted some of the online delivery for the PGCert  at Birmingham City University. This represented an innovation for the 2015/16 PGCert cohort and has allowed for an enhanced emphasis upon the employment of new technologies, the embedding of employability skills and an increased focus upon exploring the opportunities for student engagement and partnership working. Certainly our initial cohort of flipped learners seemed to evaluate the practice favourably with one participant commenting, “I enjoyed the sessions and interaction with my peers. The opportunities and activities for deeper learning were great!” while another highlighted the “Practical application of teaching methods and facilitation” as one of the strengths of the module.

However it would be dishonest to suggest that the entire cohort welcomed the practice so positively, indeed one participant admitted to hating the flipped classroom practice as a result of the disruption and challenge represented to up until that point familiar areas of practice as offered by the lecture/seminar/workshop model. In the case of our 40 strong intake, it is also important to acknowledge that our PGCert participants were not given a choice over the delivery pattern. While this had been the case for my undergraduate delivery, where students were familiarised with the delivery pattern and practice in advance and given the opportunity to opt out if it didn’t suit them, the same could not be said of the PGCert and the associated professional staff development programme, as there is an expectation that new staff members joining BCU will complete the programme within 3 years of their arrival. Part of the rationale for teaching in this way was to foster an approach in which our new academics commence the learning journey for their own students with the flipped classroom, fresh from their own experience as a recipient of the flipped class. With a vision to enhance the student experience, our approach to professional staff development includes opportunities for new colleagues at the university to experience first-hand some of the opportunities for learning that such activities extend themselves to.

Flipped classroom practice has had a massive impact upon my classroom delivery and in the design and planning for those experiences for participants of the courses to which I deliver. This activity has had a transformative impact upon my practice and has changed the way that I view the learning experience. The flipped classroom offers an opportunity through which to hand over the reins of the learning environment in a way that allows us to be much more responsive to the immediate needs and interests of our learners, offering an opportunity for a personalised learning experience and enabling a much more active learning environment in which our participants are involved in live enquiry and active exploration. Going beyond the possibilities of live lecture capture and the archive activity of recording lecture activity for future reference, the flip side of the flipped classroom lies in the possibilities that are afforded for the space and time that would ordinarily have been occupied by the traditional lecture. It would seem to me that it is here that the most exciting exploration of the learning and teaching environment and the possibilities implicit in such a shift afforded by the online lecture. Offering more than an opportunity to re-record lecture content, the practice of flipped classroom learning offers a real possibility to design learning experiences that don’t fade away, but rather bring the learning experience to life in a way that becomes meaningful and extends way beyond the life of the taught classroom environment.

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